Letter: The Cape on Bowen shares the ideals of Bowen Islanders

Dear Editor:

I appreciate the recent letter by John Sbragia in the Undercurrent emphasizing that any rezoning plan for the Cape should follow the Official Community Plan (OCP).

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I’m happy to say that we are very much in alignment with the desires of Bowen Island residents as expressed in the OCP and other public documents such as Vital Conversations and Island Plan 2018. We recognize that the top priorities are to support: the natural environment; a variety of housing types for diverse ages, ethnicities and economic positions; health care & wellness; youth; volunteerism, connection & community involvement; good transportation; and sustainability. We have many stunning acres of land where we believe we can play a part to advance these priorities, if the community agrees, the Cape is a good place to do it.

About a decade ago, we failed in our attempt for a rezoning that would meet these desires. We included all the uses that the island wanted, but at a density that was too high. In the context of an economic recession at the time, we could not afford to continue any longer in our planning process, and fell back on the default zoning, with its minimum size of four hectares per property. We didn’t want to shut down the rezoning exercise, but by the time our proposal was turned down we had already spent three years on engagement & studies, as well as millions of dollars. To be perfectly open and honest, the bank was insisting on some forward movement.

In retrospect, the high number of units that we proposed back then — almost three times the OCP guideline of 224 units — was clearly too much for the community. Lesson learned. In fact, for the developer the capital outlay would have been a risky proposition, though the Cape group was prepared to do it because we philosophically believed in the complete community we proposed. 

To provide housing in various forms and to contribute toward affordability or attainability of housing, there would have to be more than 35 exclusive estates, so a rezoning would be needed. To be community builders, not big, bad, greedy developers, we know that housing isn’t the only thing that matters. Amenities, activities, diversity and inclusion, social connection, steady employment, thriving businesses, self-sustainability, and protecting what the whole community treasures — the environment — all make up the fabric of a healthy community. 

Recent rezonings that required OCP amendments include Municipal Lot 1, Grafton Lake, Snug Cove Village Plan, detached secondary buildings and others. We want what the community wants in terms of vision and values, and we hope we can help to contribute towards achieving the island’s priorities on the beautiful, vast lands at the Cape, on the sunny southwestern tip of the island. Density in itself doesn’t necessarily provide the best financial return, due to high up front infrastructure costs. It’s about finding a kind of happy medium. We don’t know yet what the appropriate number of units would be, and we need help to find out.

Through all these years, the Cape’s uniqueness and rarity has not been lost on the market. We are no longer at the bank’s mercy. But we do want to do better, and we need new capital that would commit to the long haul and to creating a legacy. Since 2010, we have consciously released our properties to the market as slowly as possible, in order to retain contiguous acreage for a well thought out masterplan. We still hope to honour the beauty of our land and encourage more people not only to visit and enjoy it, but actually live there.

To get to a win for all, there has to be a balance between social, environmental and economic aspects. We hope that we can foster opportunities for on-island employment of professionals in health care, wellness, hospitality & recreation, and education. There could also be land for growing food, creating nature programs and gathering places — all of which would involve programs that would welcome and encourage volunteerism. We would like to create parks, trails, connected greenways, and to conserve nature, because what makes the Cape so special is its stunning natural beauty on this tranquil island. 

Despite missteps, we genuinely share the ideals of Bowen’s residents. 

Ultimately it is a matter of discussing in concrete terms with the community whether there should be a change at the Cape, and if so, where certain things should go, how much, and when. To figure out how much we can do there in a way that would please the community, we need your input. Please talk to us. One way is to visit envisionthecape.ca.

As we figure that out, any potential investor will see what direction the Cape is headed. By giving active voice, the community shapes its own future. We hope that the community will give us, and give itself, a chance for a better future.

With utmost sincerity and a utopian dream,

Candy Ho, Executive Officer, The Cape on Bowen 

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